Friday, February 7, 2020

Overproof Day Part 2: Booker's 2019-02, 03, 04 Shiny Barrel, Country Ham, & Beaten Biscuits

Look, you all know what Booker's is, right? Uncut, unfiltered bourbon, pretty much right out of the barrels, "the way I drink it," as The Man himself said, and now you get different batches four times a year -- because tickers? Well, gee, I dunno, I just drink the stuff -- and they're all different because that's how bourbon works, damn it, and if you don't understand that, you need my new book.

Got that? Right. So here's the scoop -- uncut, unfiltered -- I liked drinking those two barrel proof whiskeys so much a few days ago, I decided to do it again. It's Friday, so what the hell.

2019-02 Shiny Barrel Batch, 124.0° proof, 6 years, 5 mo., and 1 day old: Sweet Red Hots candy and vanilla extract, right out of the little brown bottle in the spice cupboard, cornmeal in the bag, and hot caramel. And for 124° proof, it ain't exactly burning out my nose, either; this is pretty pleasant and almost gentle. I suspect that's not going to be the case once I tip it up. We'll see.

Cherry cough medicine, oaky vanilla, brown butter, fizzing brown sugar, bananas foster and cinnamon, rye spice and oiliness. Oh, and did I mention the heat? No? It's hot, but as my Uncle Don said about the suicide wings, that night in upstate when all the yokels were leaning in, "Not bad. Could be hotter," and then licked the leftover sauce off his fingers. Because hell yeah, I'm going back for more.

The fire roars higher in the finish...then peaks and splits, like a hot-air balloon on fire rises high above the burning basket on the ground. There's heat high in my mouth, heat all over my tongue, but the fire's gone away in the middle, and things settle enough that you can take another lick, and the more you do, the sweeter it gets, and the fire sits down in the easy chair of your palate, and says, "There, now that's not so bad, is it?" And he's right. In fact, it's pretty much all right.


2019-03 Booker's Country Ham, 124.7° proof, 6 years, 4 mo., and 2 days old: I've heard some great stories about Booker's hams...but they're not my stories. I only have stories about his pork chops, so that will have to wait till that batch comes along. Let's get to work here.

There's brown sugar and cinnamon (lighter this time), sweet vanilla, dried buttercream frosting (you know? Like it's been sitting out for a day, and got kind of crunchy on top?), and just a tiny hint of funky raunch, warehouse candy-style. And now that I think about it, I'm kinda surprised I don't associate that with a big brawly 6 year old like Booker's before. Beam's had a deft touch for picking the rounded barrels: hats off.

All right, I'm ready. Tip it.

Damn, folks, this one might need a touch of water. No, I'm okay. But the heat is by God up front on this one, cracking on before it even properly spreads on the tongue. Rye's coming through hard, but so's the sweet, which is real big, and cushions that hot, spicy stuff. This is where Booker's beguiles you. Sure, it's hot, but the flavors are so big, so enveloping, so much, that you are okay with the heat because you want more of that stuff. Mmmm, cinnamon and orange, brown sugar and vanilla, crackling caramel, and that hard-working rye skinning it back with a spicy, oily note that reels in the oak and dries it up into a way long finish.

Jeez. Is this stuff getting on top of me? Only one way to find out. Punch through to number 3: Beaten Biscuits. The strongest, and oldest of the three.

2019-04 Beaten Biscuits, 126.1°proof, 6 years, 6 mo., and 19 days: Hmmm...I did pour a bigger sample. Maybe there is something going on. There's cinnamon roll in the nose, tell you that, with some nice dough notes, but there's fresh-split oak log in there, too. The Red Hots are there, and a hint of red hot woody, the toothpicks soaked in cinnamon oil, and some brittle sugar cookie. It just opens up more and more, the longer I go at it; a little anise, some hot mint... That's damned good.

Bring it on. Ha! I don't even know where the heat went. (Maybe all that scar tissue on my tongue has something to do with it, but if that's the cost...) This one's oak forward, with vanilla and a little King Syrup, and the cinnamon's hiding in a corner of my mouth because the oak's banging around like a drunk in the basement, hollering and thumping. Old Mister Rye's having his say, fiddling his wild tune and it's slicing through the room, setting the tempo for this hoe-down. Finish? No, there's just the oak, taking a breath long enough for me to take another hit, and he's stomping again. You don't want the finish, you just want this party to keep on rocking. When it comes, it's oak, clogging and stepping, and away he goes, with the roll of the heat.

Well, that was silly, but by golly, that was a good, good whiskey. Third bottle's the charm: this one's the winner tonight.

Booker's is not just a good whiskey. This is an iconic whiskey. If there's any validity or value left to the old idea of something that "separates the men from the boys," Booker's is it. Big, and just a bit wild with it, and unapologetic for every ounce. An altogether appropriate bottle for a wake, a great bottle for a snowbound weekend. Booker's.



*Yes, these full-bottle samples were sent to me by Beam Suntory (or their agents). I have received no other compensation, and Beam probably thinks I'm a skunk for sitting on these for almost a year before reviewing them. I promise you as an ethical writer that I don't really give a damn about another bottle of free whiskey, because when you have so much of it you don't have room for more...it don't matter if you piss off someone with an honest review. Even Beam. Even Booker's. Yes, I know it's unfair that I have three bottles of free Booker's. It's also not fair that I'm going to put in three hours or more work on this and not get paid a dime. Figger it out. 

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